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Tissue Engineering with 3D Printers – innovative development in medicine

  -   29. April 2017
Source: splotramienny

Alone in Germany, thousands of people are currently waiting for a donor organ. Not everyone can be helped directly. For patients on lists, this means waiting and hoping. Every day an average of three people die without a suitable organ being found. Many researchers therefore place their hopes on tissue engineering – the artificial production of replacement organs with 3D printers.

Current successes

Breast cartilage, urinary bladder and skin lobes are already produced and implanted using the usual tissue engineering procedures. Even the successful transplantation of a tract of artificial fibers, which was overlaid with blood stem cells from the bone marrow, recently succeeded in surgeries. In contrast to the organ transplantation from man to man, rejection reactions are avoided with the organs made with usual engineering procedures. By discovering new methods such as three-dimensional (3D) printing, researchers are hoping for new possibilities in artificial tissue engineering.

First steps with 3D printing

  •  Drinking cups
  • Toys
  • Car parts
  • Shoes
  • Screws and nuts
  • Biscuits and chips

Nowadays almost everything can be produced with 3D printing technology, from real plastic products to even food. The process, that is about to revolutionize the usual industrial production processes, produces complete artificial organs from stem cells or tissue precursor cells for surgery purposes. Scientists from the University of Oxford have taken first step towards this possibility. The researchers have already produced a kind of synthetic tissue that, like nerve cells, can conduct electrical signals and perform muscular contractions.

Using living material to reach goals

With a 3D printer, different materials and cells can be precisely positioned. Researchers from the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Winston-Salem have created a particularly resistant cartilage tissue. They printed fine polymer filaments and cartilage cells alternately. These artificial tissues were implanted in mice. After eight weeks, it had put up characteristics of a natural cartilage. Considering the fact that in Germany several hundred cartilages must be transplanted annually, this appears to be nothing special. However, the artificial tissue that has been transplanted so far has a disadvantage: it is not as stable as the original. Thanks to the polymer filaments, it is now possible to produce a fabric, which has similar mechanical properties and load capacity as a true cartilage.

Another success with 3D printing

Another reason for the use of 3D printers is that exact images of body parts can be made. For example, American scientists from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York produced a complete ear made of real tissue. They first constructed a 3D scan of a real ear. This served as a template for the printer to produce a three-dimensional, hollow ear made of plastic. This form was filled with cartilage cells and collagen. After several processing steps an artificial ear emerged, which was hardly distinguishable from a real one. The ear has yet only been transplanted successfully to rats so far. Thus, the researchers hope to use this method to help children born without auricle.

Future goals of 3D printing

Thanks to the ability to conduct electrical stimuli and produce outer organs like an ear, the artificial tissue could be used as a revolution for medicines. The lifesavers would be made at the “push of a button”. Another application is obvious: doctors could one day selectively print nerve tissue or muscle strands in any shape and prepare them in a suitable environment for transplantation by using stem cells. Printing entire organs is one of the research objectives for the future.


3D printing is a very promising way to get perfectly shaped and fitted replacement organs to waiting, suffering or even dying patients that quickly need help. With all losses of body parts imaginable, these special printers, affordable to big hospitals, can print all possible organs, tissues, skins or limbs needed to save a life or make sick people happy again.

Who wrote it?

Moritz Wellershaus

Moritz Wellershaus studies at the European Management School in Mainz.  


Shanice Mack
09-05-2017 21:41

Hey Moritz! Reading your first paragraph, was shocking, because I knew that there exist organ lists on which people have to wait until it is their "turn", but I didn't know, that every day, an average of three people die just through waiting. I also knew, that with 3D printing you could build a house and even more things, but it is very fascinating, that through this innovation prothesis, body parts and even organs could be produced. It would save so many lives just due to the fact, that these artificial tissues were implemented. Also like you said, for kids who are born without auricle or body parts could change everything. I am very excited about what 3D printing brings us in future, but especially in medicine, to heal so many diseases.

Maximilian Lenhardt
08-05-2017 14:31

It was quite astonishing to get to know that technology has gone far enough to 3D print complete body parts for transplantation! And the fact that engineers are working on ways to "print" functioning organs is in my opinion as well a step into the right direction, even though it may sound strange. But I think this will take more time to fully develop. I'd like to know which material they will use to print organs or tissues in general. All in all the goals in the medical sector concerning printing tissues are desirable! As you said, people would not have to wait desperately for donor organs which then again also have to be compatible with people's bodies. With these printed organs one could use a material that is omni-compatible. I'm excited what the responsible persons will come up with.

Lea Rottmann
08-05-2017 00:29

I must admit I did not really know much about 3D printing and its true potential. To my knowledge 3D printers were merely deployed in creating special parts for mechanical or material industries like car manufacturing or merchandise production. However, that newest technology is attempting to produce artificial organs was very interesting to read! It is astounding to see what research and technology could be capable of in the near future. Medical advances are often very controversial and while technology will continue to take over large parts of our life, some might argue that tissue engineering is a major invasion into the naturalness of human beings. I believe, not only patients in need of organ donations could be cured faster, but the risk of infection after a transplant or a body rejecting a donated organ can possibly be reduced as well. All in all, I am very curious what scientific and medical advances tissue engineering in combination with organ production will bring in our future.

Annika Amann
07-05-2017 16:59

Of course, I've already heard about 3D Printers before - but the fact that engineers are now trying to “print organs” to find a remedy for the current, difficult and complicated way of transplanting organs was totally new to me. But do not get me wrong: I definitely think that this is a step in the right direction, but right now I cannot imagine how this should work with our current state of medical and technical knowledge. I admit, that in recent years news hit the headlines that the innovative 3D printers are able to print food, toys and clothes. But organs? To achieve such a target - I think we still have a long way to go. However, I really like the idea of achieving these goals – like you mentioned above– thousands of people are suffering and they are still waiting to receive a suitable organ in order to survive. Hopefully, engineers will find a way to develop these hope-giving 3D printers which can help suffering patients in near future.

Jil Becker
06-05-2017 18:01

Sure, 3D printers that can spit out chocolate, help astronauts or create shoes sound fun, but a lot of scientists are working to make models that are not just fun, as you have described in your blog. After reading your article I realized the high potential of 3D printers concerning physical organ models. If you 3D print a dress for example, it is pretty easy to say right away if it works. The assays to tell whether bioprinting works or not are really really time consuming, besides the fact that they are very expensive. Unluckily, we are still at the early stages of the technology. I would definitely invest money in this innovation, although printing working human organs is a lot more complex than printing out plastic toys.

Carolin Wolf
06-05-2017 16:13

Hey Moritz, I think the Tissue Engineering with 3D Printers is a huge progress and improvement in the worldwide medical working environment. I didn’t know that there is an average of three people who die due to the fact that there is no potential organ donor being found. In today’s life, this innovation was necessary to be finally invented. But actually I don’t really know what to make of this. I think it should be considered differently. On the one hand, there are people waiting so long for a single organ to live a normal and happy life again which can be now sold easily with just printing a suitable organ. But on the other hand, it is, in my opinion, kind of morbid, to help people staying alive by just printing a plastic organ and put it in the needing bodies. How long will now a human-being be alive in the future? It is the beginning of artificial-made bodies and human-beings. People are not original anymore - they are fake. This already began with plastic and cosmetic surgeries. But this is a new dimension of surviving a life. Finally living forever - for many people a dream, for many a nightmare which comes true.

Tabea Arnold
06-05-2017 00:01

It is shocking and simultaneously so impressive how far the industry goes with 3D printing. It all started with little plastic figures and is now so far that they print human tissue. Additionally, it is dangerous and alarming that everybody with a 3D printer is able to print their own guns which do not have serial numbers, meaning that they cannot be traced back to its owner when a crime is committed. However, 3D printing is a huge opportunity for mankind and businesses because it can help save human life’s as well as decrease manufacturing costs, but the technology is still in its early stages which means that there is a lot to be learned and improved to successfully use it in our daily life’s.

Nicolas Eckhardt
05-05-2017 20:39

If we imagine, that four years ago 3D Printing was something expensive and complicated, the technology development is tremendous. Not only the price was a problem with 3D prints, either the accuracy of those prints. It was only able to make cornered things. Nowadays, as I learned in your article, we can print body parts which not only fits perfectly but also are looking nearly identical like “original human parts”. Printing ears, shoes or even food is no longer an imagination. It is a very arresting topic with a lot of potential. Also, because 3D Printers are getting more and more accessible for private households it can be a daily used device for making living more convenience. Maybe one day it will be essentials like our Computers. Thank you for showing the possibilities for 3D printer in medicine branches. For sure it is already a game changer for the efficiency in developing prostheses or organic tissue.

Julia Herrhammer
04-05-2017 23:17

Hey Moritz! In my opinion the invention of the 3D printer is a great remedy for humankind as it can save million lives. The fact that they are still developing and improving the printer in relation to their success shows how soon we will be able to rebuild all organs, body parts, fibers and so much more. No more patients who will have to wait hopelessly for an organ and no more problems with a rejection of implanted parts. Furthermore, important to mention is that the more they develop the product, the more the prices will decrease and maybe soon people will be able to own one in their home.

Clara Brilmayer
01-05-2017 18:20

Until I read this article, i did not really think about 3D-printing. I knew, that it existed and that several objects, like toys and car parts, as mentioned above, can be printed in 3D. Even this is very hard for me to imagine, since I have never seen how a three-dimensional print process works. But the fact, that we live in a time, where it is possible to produce a synthetic tissue which is able to conduct electric signals, as well as perform muscular contraction, is just incredible. Even though, artifical tissues are not as stable as the original, this concern will only be a matter of time. It is unbelievable, how further research in this area of 3D-printing can contribute to improve affected patients' lives. Nevertheless, I am also a little bit glad, that it is not so simple to reproduce organic tissue. In my opinion, this underlines the individuality and inimitableness of human and animal beings.



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